Liverpool targeting Gremio star Luan to join Coutinho and Firmino at Anfield next season


It's transfer season, so Brazilian football expert Jack Lang is dusting off his notepad for a series of scouting reports on the country's best young players, some of whom could soon be in Europe...

It started four minutes in. A bit of movement, a perfect touch into space and the defender forced into a careless lunge. Red card. Not long after, the moment that will grace future YouTube highlights reels arrived. He drifted between the lines, as is his wont, killed the ball dead, pirouetted and – with barely a split-second's thought – unleashed a laser-guided shot into the top corner. Game over, mainly thanks to one man. 

This was Wednesday night's Copa do Brasil match between Fluminense and Grêmio (see video below), but it could have been any number of the latter team's games over the last couple of years. For Luan Guilherme de Jesus Vieira, best known just by his first name, has made a happy habit of stamping his mark on matches, be it with goals, assists or just the all-round quality that oozes from his every move.

The 24-year-old forward has been linked with a big-money move to Liverpool this summer, while other European clubs are circling. So what is all the fuss about?


 

 

Background

The forward was born in São José do Rio Preto, a small town in São Paulo state, where he honed his skills playing street football. After losing his father at the age of five – "It was complicated," he has since said of his childhood – his first steps in youth teams were overseen by his mother, Márcia Cristina, who saw real talent in her son.

Luan was a natural at futebol de salão, the Brazilian version of five-a-side played at mind-bending speed with a weighted ball. Indeed, he would repeatedly turn down opportunities to play 11 vs 11 football until 2012, when he joined minnows Tanabi at the age of 18.

That, of course, is a very late start, but he swiftly made up for lost time. He shone at the 2013 Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior (Brazil's premier youth tournament) for América-SP, scoring six goals and catching the eye of Grêmio, who brought him to Porto Alegre. Before long, his performances for their under-20 side – 17 goals and 13 assists in 29 starts that year – put him in the first-team frame.


He would have to be patient: Luiz Felipe Scolari, installed as coach after his 2014 World Cup nightmare, did not seem overly keen on promoting youth. But the arrival of Roger Machado, a far more progressive coach, gave Luan his chance. The striker thrived in a fluid 4-2-3-1 system, making the 2015 Brasileirão team of the year and winning plenty of fans in the process. Since then, he has been the undisputed talisman of the side. 

International recognition came in 2016, when Luan played a key role in Brazil's Olympic success in Rio. He started that tournament on the bench but soon muscled his way into Rogério Micale's starting XI and was arguably the Seleção's best player as they took gold for the first time. He made his debut for the senior side in January.


 

Style and strengths

Luan is the picture of a modern forward. Fleet-footed and skilful, he is comfortable operating on either flank. But his best performances have come when he has been deployed down the middle, with licence to drop off and drift into space. In that role, his clever movement and selflessness – he seems just as happy setting up goals as scoring them – come to the fore.

He's more than capable of wowing with his footwork, but he's far too intelligent to indulge in too much show-pony silliness. In fact, his best moments come when he keeps things simple, sauntering between the lines to provide a killer pass or a dead-eyed finish. Add in his ability to travel at pace with the ball and you can see why his agent has claimed he can become "a new Kaká”.

 

Areas for improvement

Luan is not always the most physically imposing, meaning he would probably need to bulk up a touch were he to come to Europe. He is also prone to the odd goal drought: he had a frustrating run of games without scoring earlier this year, leading to some criticism from Grêmio's fans.

Those considering him as an out-and-out number nine need also beware. “He doesn’t have the characteristics to play with his back to goal,” Grêmio boss Renato Gaúcho said last year. “That’s not his game and he won’t perform as well in that role."


 

Who would he suit?

Leicester sent representatives to Brazil a year ago in an attempt to persuade Luan to come to the King Power Stadium, but it's safe to say he'll now be aiming higher when it comes to his big move. Liverpool's interest is understandable: Luan's movement and versatility would seem to make him a classic Jurgen Klopp player, somewhere between Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana.

Whoever goes in for him will need to splash the cash, though: his release clause is a whopping €60million and the expectation is that he'll sign a new deal at Grêmio soon, to ensure he doesn't leave on the cheap. 


 

What they say

“Luan is very good. He’s creative, different. He’s very skilful and he thinks differently. He’ll soon be in Europe. I want him at Barça, because his style would fit in very well in Spain and at Barcelona, too" – Ronaldinho, talking to FourFourTwo.

 

Did you know?

Luan's life story is spelt out in a series of tattoos all over his body. There are statements of love for those close to him ("Family is my life"), the name of his mother, religious allusions ("Blessed by God") and the logo of the Rio Olympics – a tattoo that his good friend Neymar also has.

The most eye-catching is probably the one on his right calf, which depicts a scene from his childhood. Two bare-footed boys kick a ball on a dusty surface as a kite flies overhead and houses peer down from the hillside. "You can leave the favela but the favela never leaves you," reads the accompanying text.